Do you suffer from gluten intolerance? Do you know the symptoms? You should. We give you all the details on gluten intolerance. Read on to learn more.
Gluten-free foods became a trend in recent years and for good reason. There are many people who have gluten allergies or sensitivities, even if they haven’t been officially diagnosed with celiac disease.
What is gluten?
How do you know if your body is showing symptoms of intolerance?
Gluten is a blend of proteins. It’s found in many different types of grains. That includes wheat, barley, and rye. Of the two proteins that make up gluten – gliadin, and glutenin – glutenin is the one that causes negative reactions.
One of the first signs of gluten insensitivity is the body’s reaction to eating bread. When mixed with water, gluten creates a sticky, stretchy substance. As it travels through the digestive tract and mixes with a person’s immune system, the body reacts as if there’s a problem and attacks it.
That prompts an onslaught of negative symptoms throughout the body.
What Foods Should You Avoid If You’re Sensitive To Gluten?
Often, those with a gluten sensitivity must look closely at the ingredient list of any food they want to eat to figure out if it might trigger a reaction. Ingredients that contain gluten include:
- White and whole-wheat flour.
- Durum wheat.
- Graham flour.
- Wheat germ and wheat bran.
- Modified food starch.
These ingredients are most often found in:
- Cookies, cakes, muffins and pastries.
- Flour tortillas.
- Some oatmeals.
- Gravy, dressings and sauces.
- Some candies.
- Fried foods.
- Chips and other snack foods.
- Seasoned rice and pasta dishes.
- Soy sauce.
- Imitation fish.
- Lunch meats and hotdogs.
This isn’t a complete list.
If you have a gluten sensitivity, you are going to need to do your research to conclude what foods are safe and which are not. You might also need to learn a great deal by trial and error. Some people discover a food has gluten because they eat it and have a reaction. Otherwise, they may never know. If you have concerns about a food, you can contact the food’s manufacturer.
They’re legally obligated to tell you whether or not a food contains gluten.
Celiac Disease Is Severe
The most severe form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease.
It’s an autoimmune disease.
Celiac disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks gluten protein and attacks an enzyme in the body’s digestive tract. Along with attacking the foreign invader, the body of a celiac sufferer also attacks itself.
Over time and left untreated, this leads to a variety of digestive issues. It could also lead to anemia, fatigue, and failure to thrive, with some people not having any digestive issues at all. Estimates show as many as 80% of people with celiac disease are undiagnosed and don’t know they have the disease.
Even those who don’t have full-blown celiac disease might struggle with gluten insensitivity. It’s actually quite common. Gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance, means you have some kind of bad reaction after eating gluten. When you remove gluten from your diet, it relieves the symptom(s) and you feel better. If you experience adverse reactions to gluten, but doctors rule out celiac disease, you’re diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
It’s also possible for someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance to have adverse reactions after consuming gluten. One study showed that when people with irritable bowel syndrome removed gluten from their diets, they had less pain, bloating, fatigue and stool inconsistency.
There’s also evidence that removing gluten from the diet improves intestinal health by reducing inflammation.
As well, there’s evidence gluten could be linked to brain health. Some believe this is due to a link between gut health and the brain. There’s evidence that many neurological issues could be caused by gluten and others exacerbated by it.
One study looked at a condition known as cerebellar ataxia. For those who don’t know, that’s a brain disease that affects a person’s coordination, balance, speech, and movement. Researchers now believe that ataxia is linked to gluten consumption. They’ve pointed to evidence that gluten causes irreversible damage in the cerebellum and that people with ataxia improve when gluten is removed from their diet.
Other neurological issues that improve when gluten is removed from a person’s diet include autism, schizophrenia, and epilepsy.
What Are The Gluten Intolerance Symtoms?
The only sure way to figure out if you’re dealing with gluten intolerance is to completely remove it from your diet for a significant period of time (30 days or more) and then reintroduce it into your diet. You might want to do this in combo with other potentially problematic foods to get a true sense of the problem.
For instance, if you suspect you might be sensitive to sugar, along with gluten, remove both. From there, reintroduce them slowly. Do so one at a time. You’ll know what’s triggering your sensitivity by your body’s reaction once each is reintroduced.
Some of the most common gluten intolerance symptoms include digestive issues. With that said, some people with gluten intolerance have no digestive symptoms. Others experience digestive issues so unpredictable it’s impossible to precisely identify the issue.
These Are The Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance Symptoms
Often, the exact gluten-related medical condition you have determines the symptoms. For instance, the following are symptoms of non-celiac gluten intolerance:
- Brain fog.
- Abdominal pain.
- Lactose intolerance.
- Nausea or the sense you need to vomit.
- Hair loss.
- Itchy skin.
- Foul-smelling stool.
- Irritation, anxiety, and depression.
- Easy bruising.
There might also be other symptoms you experience that isn’t listed. Some people find that once they remove gluten from their diet a number of symptoms clear up that they hadn’t even realized was linked to their gluten consumption.
In some cases, problems are solved that you didn’t even know you had. For instance, some people have lived with their gluten intolerance so long they don’t realize that it’s causing brain fog. But, once they stop eating gluten, they feel sharper, better rested and more aware.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Wheat Allergy?
There’s no test that can identify non-celiac gluten intolerance, so you’ll be receiving a diagnosis of elimination. This means your doctor will test you for celiac disease and for a wheat allergy. If both tests are negative, you’ll likely be diagnosed with gluten intolerance. You’ll likely be asked to keep a log of the foods you eat and your reaction, which your doctor will also use to make his or her diagnosis.
These are the symptoms of a wheat allergy:
- Mouth and throat irritation.
- Hives and rash.
- Irritated eyes.
- Nasal congestion.
- Difficulty breathing.
Wheat is a common allergen.
But, it isn’t always triggered by gluten. You might have a wheat allergy if you react to any food with wheat, but not to other gluten-containing foods. Symptoms usually occur within a minute of consuming wheat, though sometimes it’s hours before anything is triggered. Wheat allergies can be life threatening and require administration of an epinephrine injection.
These Are The Symptoms Of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease symptoms are also different. The following is what you might expect:
- Abdominal bloating and gas.
- Chronic diarrhea.
- Pale, foul-smelling stool.
- Stomach pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
As mentioned, celiac disease is an autoimmune condition. It not only causes the body to attack gluten but also to attack itself. Over time, celiac disease can damage the intestinal lining so much that a person is unable to absorb any nutritional value from food.
This can lead to malnutrition.
The damage to the intestinal lining from celiac disease can be permanent.
Over time, this damage can interfere with a person’s ability to live a healthy life. Children with celiac tend to experience delayed development. They tend to also be short in stature, moody or irritable and have a hard time gaining weight. Adults with celiac disease experience a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Canker sores inside your mouth.
- Depression and anxiety.
- Joint pain.
- Missed menstrual periods.
- Infertility or frequent miscarriages.
- Tingling in your hands and feet.
These symptoms sometimes mimic or overlap with symptoms caused by other chronic conditions. Your best bet is to remove gluten from your diet and evaluate your body’s response.
Should You Speak To Your Doctor About Issues With Gluten?
Though some people self-diagnose gluten intolerance, it’s always better to speak to your doctor about your symptoms.
Gluten intolerance isn’t fatal, but celiac disease and wheat allergies can be if left untreated.
Your doctor will likely speak to you about your symptoms. He or she will ask questions about your diet. She or he will likely refer you to an allergist or gastroenterologist for further testing.
If celiac disease hasn’t yet been ruled out as a cause for your symptoms that will be the first priority. It’s not only important to report all of your symptoms, but also whether or not a family member has been diagnosed with celiac disease or has struggled with similar symptoms. Celiac tends to run in families. That’s means knowing your family’s health history can help speed your diagnosis.
Testing for gluten issues includes a blood or skin prick test.
You need to have gluten in your system when these tests are administered. That’s another reason why it’s important to not self-diagnose with a gluten-free diet before you speak to a doctor. Don’t forget: There are ways to definitively identify celiac disease and wheat allergies. Once these are ruled out, you can remove gluten and see if your symptoms improve.
Treating Gluten Intolerance Issues
Once you’ve identified gluten intolerance, you’ll need to make dietary changes to improve your health.
There’s no cure for celiac or any other gluten-related health issue, aside from avoiding gluten.
If you don’t have celiac disease, but you’re sensitive to gluten, it’s a personal decision as to how much you want to remove gluten from your diet. Many people, especially those with only mild symptoms, sometimes eat gluten-containing foods with the understanding it’ll result in a flare-up of their symptoms.
The good news is for those who have gluten issues there are many gluten-free alternatives on the market.
Many companies have capitalized on people’s awareness of gluten sensitivity and are offering foods like pasta, cereal, bread and baked items that would have otherwise been a nightmare for those with gluten intolerance.
Any drastic changes in your diet are bound to trigger side effects. When you begin to eat gluten free, most of these side effects will be positive, and those that aren’t are usually temporary. But, it’s important to know what to expect and, if possible, know what you can do to manage any negatives.
Most people experience some weight loss and a boost in energy when they remove gluten from their diet. In general, they report feeling great.
Sadly, since you are changing your eating habits, it’ll take some time for your body to adjust. Some experience constipation when they go gluten-free because they’re eating less fiber. You’ll need to look at ways to replace the fiber sources in your diet with gluten-free options. But, be careful not to go overboard with fiber supplements or high fiber foods all at once.
This can trigger bloating, gas and diarrhea.
Many people who dealt with lactose problems that were linked to their gluten intolerance experience improvement when they remove gluten from their diet. As gut health improves, your ability to digest certain food also improves.
Another important consideration is gluten cross-contamination. This isn’t a problem for some with gluten intolerance, but others are so sensitive to gluten that they are affected when their gluten-free foods touch surfaces that were also in contact with gluten. You’ll want to keep this in mind when preparing food at home. You might also want to ask how kitchens control cross-contamination when dining out.
Finally, it’s important to watch your nutrition once you are gluten free. Though you might have struggled to absorb nutrients when you were dealing with your gluten intolerance, you might still have issues getting enough of what you need, even though your body is able to properly process it.
Prepare yourself to gradually make tweaks in your diet, as you grow accustomed to gluten-free eating.
By Kelly Brown
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